The laryngeal mask airway (LMA) has been shown to be useful in airway maintenance during resuscitation. The intubating laryngeal mask (ILM) is a modified LMA permitting both ventilation and rapid endotracheal intubation. We aimed to compare the LMA and the ILM with regard to ease of insertion and successful ventilation by inexperienced personnel. We have used anaesthetized, apnoeic, non-paralysed patients as a model to simulate resuscitation. Following standardized training, non-anaesthetic medical staff with no previous experience in laryngeal mask airway insertion (novices) inserted either the LMA or ILM in 55 patients following induction of anaesthesia. There were no differences between the two patient groups included in our study with regard to mean age and body mass index (BMI). The success rate for inserting the airway device and achieving a significant end-tidal CO2 recording within two minutes was 23/28 for the LMA (82.1%) and 22/27 for the ILM (81.5%). Reasons for failure included inability to insert the ILM past the teeth and insertion of the LMA upside down. There were no clinically relevant differences in the mean time to airway insertion and successful ventilation (62.6 vs 62 seconds) or expired tidal volume (781 vs 767 ml) for the LMA and ILM respectively. We conclude that the ILM is as easily inserted and effectively used as an LMA by novices and, because it allows the option offacilitating endotracheal intubation, may be the preferred device for maintaining an airway during resuscitation.